Jack Hubbell of Telyscopes on Demystifying Death

Photo by Charles Pfaff

Death works fast, but Jack Hubbell works faster.

When we last left the Philadelphia-based artist behind experimental twee-pop band Telyscopes, he had sworn off his lo-fi roots. What started as a bedroom project was beginning to grow an audience. A cancer scare threatened to stop his steady stream of releases, but he returned this fall to tell the tale on his new EP, Close Types.

It may be his sharpest and most eclectic work to date, filled as it is with hip-hop beats and piano breaks alongside instantly recognizable Telyscopes trademarks–fuzzy synth bass and a dreamy falsetto are right where he left them. There’s no mistaking Hubbell’s lyrics: sensitive, but mostly sardonic as he faces mortality with a signature smirk.

The EP is available to stream on Bandcamp and downloadable for members of the Tinfoil Club, Hubbell’s new $5/month fan community. That subscription also offers access to exclusive back-catalog releases, merch discounts, and a more personal channel to both Hubbell and his followers.

After the EP release, Hubbell spoke to The All Scene Eye about his latest brush with death, his changing approach to making albums, and the new Telyscopes tunes already on the way.

Last time we talked, about a year ago, you were about to release The Hobbyist. How do you feel about that record in retrospect?

To be honest, in hindsight, I wasn’t super happy with it. It felt a little rushed. There are some songs on there that definitely stand out, and some stuff that I think was treading new ground, but then there are a lot of songs that were just kind of–how do I say it? They felt too easy. [Laughs] I felt like I was making another 3×3 (Little Square Boxes) instead of doing something new. I’m not going to take it down off my Bandcamp or anything, but it’s certainly not something I want to repeat. At this point, there’s so much stuff online that I might as well take the time to make something a little better, a little more cohesive before I decide to release it.

Recently, I’ve decided to do more single releases. I think in the past I would spend six or seven months to record an album’s worth of songs and then just throw them all on a record. I’m starting to do more, like–it’ll take me a month or two to do a single/b-side, and instead of waiting until I have an album finished, just putting them out on their own. You’re putting out music more consistently, and–you know, because no one’s going to necessarily listen to a whole album from start to finish right off the bat.

When did you start working on the songs for Close Types?

Some of the songs were probably around the time I did The Hobbyist. “White Car Coasting” was actually for The Hobbyist, and I didn’t finish it in time. And then some of the stuff I was literally working on until the day before I released it. I did the opening track, “Damaged DNA,” maybe two months ago, and I sent it to my friend Alex, and he was like, “I want to redo the drums–let me reprogram the drums,” so we were literally exchanging mixes of the song the day I was trying to release it. I could have waited another four months and put them with my other new material on a new album, but it just made sense to put them on something in that moment.

How many iterations did you go through with him to get that instrumental together?

It’s actually really funny, it was kind of a throwaway acoustic-type song, but about two years ago when I released High Fidelity Drag, Alex had offered to do a remix. I sent him a few songs, but he’s such a strange person to work with. He’s very creative. You’ll ask him to do something, and he’ll give you some bizarre thing out of left field. But his remix of the song “Magnificent Imitator”–it was the beginning of “Damaged DNA.” That’s what he made. Those are the vocal stems from “Magnificent Imitator,” and those drums, I think, are the raw drums from that song that he re-processed and slowed down. I really just started off in the key of A, and the song was in the key of A, so I took his remix and built the song around it. And then he wanted to tweak the drums. [laughs] He’s not really satisfied with anything, so he just keeps reworking it, and eventually I had to reel it in and be like, “alright dude, last revisions.”

Taking something you’d already made and reconfiguring it fits that theme of the song, of “Damaged DNA”–of copying this thing over and over until it’s different.

Certainly, certainly, and it’s more cost-effective than buying actual samples. [laughs]

Throughout the record, there’s this motif of the funeral, and of death. Is that left over from High Fidelity Drag? How did it become the arc of this EP?

I don’t know if you want to include this in the actual text of the blog–it’s a little graphic. I had almost a near-death thing. It was a benign cyst in my bladder–it’s really gross. I started running a lot the last couple years. I never really ran, and I didn’t really play sports growing up, but I decided to make a life change and start running. I fell in love with it, and I guess I disrupted this thing in my bladder because apparently when you run, your bladder walls slam together.

It was late January. The weather was nice. I went for a run, came home, ate dinner, and I totally just peed a bunch of blood, [laughs] so I passed out. I’m very squeamish. I bashed my head on the sink, I broke my glasses, I had to get stitches in my face, and they were sticking catheters and shit in me. It was awful. But then there was this big mystery–it was like, “there’s this thing in your bladder. It could be bladder cancer. We don’t know. We have to go in and take it out.”

There was this two or three month period where I was trying to schedule the surgery, and I felt like it was never going to happen because at first, it was this insurance fiasco. So I’m just sitting around in my house, it’s cold, I can’t go anywhere, just like, “wow, I could literally have cancer. This could be my last year alive. That’s crazy.” I definitely wasn’t intending on continuing that motif, because I know I’ve done that so much on my previous records, but all that happened at the beginning of the year.

To have something like that happen again gives you a whole other perspective on it.

Maybe I’m reading too deep into it, but I think with High Fidelity Drag and 3×3, there’s a certain wonder. I think the concept of death is very romanticized, and it’s very mystical. I think with the most recent release, it becomes an almost clinical sort of reality. It’s like, this is a funeral, but it’s not this big, glorified thing. It’s reduced to this smaller, more intimate topic.

On “In Between,” you’ve got that closing lyric: “on request, they cued his record, but nothing played.” You really emphasize the anticlimax of it.

Totally. And, I mean, it’s depressing. It’s morbid to think about, but it’s one of those things where if you’re sitting around wondering if you have cancer, you can sit around and wonder, or you can try and make music.

I hope everything is okay now. We talked earlier this year because you were having surgery, but we never talked about what it actually was, and that’s horrifying.

Honestly, this is the best way it could have panned out. I guess technically I’m at higher risk now for cancer, but, I mean, they say that about anything. It’s probably just an excuse for them to look periodically and charge me more money, so [laughs] you know.

You already mentioned working with Alex on “Damaged DNA.” Tell me a little bit about the collaboration on “Now That I’ve Found It.”

That’s another older song; I think I wrote that right around the time I was finishing The Hobbyist. That whole middle section that’s piano now was acoustic guitar on my original versions of the song, but I showed a friend of mine, Charles [Pfaff] from Colder Planets, and he was like, “yeah, I hate the guitar.” It was this country-style, finger-plucky–you hear it on the beginning of the song on the electric. Charles was just like, “I fucking hate that guitar, like, try something else.” And I was like, “well, fuck, what should I try?” And he was like, “do a keyboard or something.” I can’t play piano for shit, but luckily I live with a bunch of musicians. Chris, who lives on the top floor of my house, has a full studio setup. He’s got a bunch of nice keyboards, pianos, whatever, so it was super easy. I just went up and explained what I was playing on guitar, and he came up with that in probably 25 minutes max.

“DNA” was very fragmented, and it was a lot of bouncing back and forth with Alex. “Now That I’ve Found It” was much smoother. I literally walked up two flights of stairs and said, “hey, man, do you mind playing some piano?” It was as simple as that.

Tell me a little about the equipment. How did you make that fuzzy, lo-fi synth bass?

Yeah, I think it actually makes an appearance on every song. It’s like, my new favorite thing to work with. My friend Zack has this analog Korg thing. I forget the model. I’m not really good with analog synths yet, actually–I haven’t played around with many–but there’s this sort of default bass fuzz sound you can get with it. It made its debut on The Hobbyist, and I’ve been in love with it since, as a texture.

Whether it’s that synth bass or bass guitar, the whole EP has a bass-heavy sound to it.

I’ve started listening to more electronic music. There’s this EP, it’s called July 2013, by a French artist who goes by Danger. I’ve always loved that EP since I first heard it three or four years ago. He has a similar synth bass, actually. And then there’s a song called “The Jungle Line” by Joni Mitchell on The Hissing of Summer Lawns. They have a similar vibe. Obviously, the Joni Mitchell track is a bit different than a modern French electronic artist, but they both have that sort of exotic–it sounds like you’re in a Rousseau painting. And just as a way to get away from standard rock instrumentation.

There’s this marriage of that thick, bassy sound with the psych-rock thing that’s always in the background.

I’m trying my best to get away from that. I don’t really listen to a lot of psych-rock anymore, honestly, but I think it’s the kind of thing that–you know, I listened to The Zombies and whatever, Jefferson Airplane, when I was first learning music at, like, 15. No matter what I write, I think that’s going to come through in the way I sing, in the way I deliver music, which is kind of cool.

It’s definitely not an intention anymore, though; I’m not trying to make any particular genre. If anything, it’s actually a little disappointing sometimes when I’ll post on a page, or I’ll share it with whomever, and they’ll be like, “oh, this is cool, this gives me Elephant 6, this gives me Tame Impala vibes.” I was going for something totally different [laughs] but it’s cool that it unintentionally comes through, I guess.

For me, the biggest part of that is just the way you do your vocals.

That’s definitely true. I don’t know how else I would sing, though. If I annunciate, or I do anything a different way, it almost sounds like pop-punk or something. [laughs] That seems more like I’m adopting someone’s style or someone’s delivery, whereas, at this point, this feels very natural to me. For better or worse, who knows?

One more track I want to ask about is the closer, “Drown.”

It’s not specified, but that’s actually a Smashing Pumpkins song. I did go through the legal thing, so it is legally published. That was included as part of this compilation that Pablo [Cabrera] actually got me in on. Pablo is a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, and like, four years ago, Pablo, Bastian and I from A MARC Train Home, and then Jason Tyler from Halfcast and Colder Planets did this big Smashing Pumpkins set. It was kind of bad publicity, because we did that, and we have all these videos and photos, and like a month after that is when Billy Corgan goes on Alex Jones and does all this crazy shit, [laughs] so we were like, “well, fuck.” But then this guy asked Pablo if he wanted to contribute a song to this compilation album.

I chose “Drown” because it’s more of an obscure song. It’s also the first Smashing Pumpkins song I heard. It’s so nostalgic that it doesn’t feel like I’m covering a specific artist–it’s just the song I heard when I was 12. My current live drummer, Pat [Hamill], ended up playing on it because Pablo, for whatever reason, didn’t have time. It was on this cover compilation, but it seemed good enough to put on the EP, and I’ve also been wanting to put more covers on my releases, which I think is kind of a dead art. Some of my favorite older records are at least two or three covers per record. 

I still want my original work to be the focal point, but throwing some covers on a record, honestly, it’s not that hard, especially if you’re not legitimately pressing it. If it’s just streaming, it’s really easy to get permission from the publisher and the label. Depending on how you upload it, whichever distribution service you’re using, most of them actually do it for you. There’s no fee you have to pay, at least to my knowledge. God forbid I get a bill next week. [laughs]

Is the Bowie quote in the original, or is that you riffing?

No, I stuck in the Bowie, and there’s The Velvet Underground, and then it’s the same progression as one of my shitty old songs, so I stuck in the “ah-woo” thing from whatever the fuck bad 2012 Telyscopes track in there as a gag for my friends who were listening around that time.

Where did you record this EP?

It’s all just at home still. I doubt there’s ever going to be a point where I want to spend money on recording again. My current living situation, I’m with other musicians, and there’s actually a room in the house that’s pretty well soundproofed, and it’s set up to be a home studio. Chris, who played piano on “Now That I’ve Found It,” he’s a full-time music teacher, but he gives lessons out of that room, he records his band’s stuff in that room, and I’ve been recording my clients in that room. Even though it isn’t official–it’s not fucking Abbey Road, you know–it is a studio. Even with the baffles I have built now, my bedroom will get the job done, and the amount of quality lost is negligible when you factor in the amount of time I can spend perfecting something without paying someone per hour.

Who are you currently playing with live?

I recorded a band, Echolad, in January 2017, and we hit it off. I mean, we were friends. It was actually a shame this didn’t happen then, but it just didn’t. For a year I was doing 12-string acoustic sets, and it was fun. Very limiting, but fun. In the early spring, like March or April, Charlie [Dubuc] and Mike [Horvath] came out, and Mike offered to play with me. I kind of thought he was blowing smoke up my ass, like, “that’s nice, I appreciate it,” but then he actually hit me up again later, and was like, “no, seriously, we’d be down,” and I was like, “yeah, let’s meet up and jam.”

It was hard to find a drummer at first. Their full-time drummer not only is extremely busy but is extremely loud. He’s very hard-hitting, and that’s not what I wanted. I wanted someone pretty soft. More of a jazz drummer, I think. Not only for the vibe but just so you hear the vocals and I don’t have to scream or strain my voice. I was spoiled rotten with Pablo. I was in Lenclair with Pablo for about two years, and still–I’ll say this in front of my current live drummer–Pablo is the bee’s knees. He’s absolutely the best drummer I’ve ever worked with. He knows how to play softer for venues or songs where the vocals need to be heard. Once you play with someone like that, it’s really hard to settle for some mediocre, sloppy, punk kind of drummer, so it was a little tricky, but we found Pat. He works full time as a musician, and he’s technically a jazz drummer, which is ideal. That’s what I wanted anyway, so it all fell into place.

Also, outside of music, we get along. We all have the same sort of dark humor, so it’s really easy. We’ve done some traveling already, and it’s almost at the point where while we’re playing a show, I’m looking forward to getting back in the car with them. They’re just really enjoyable people to spend time with.

Tell me about the Tinfoil Club.

[laughs] I know it sounds super cliche, but genuinely, it’s not just about making money, because it’s pretty shit money. I can buy a sandwich every month, whatever, fuck it. It’s more about–I feel like I have about 15, 20, maybe a couple more legitimate fans; people who hit me up and ask me specific questions on the regular and who are pretty involved. It was more of a way to set something up so I could share unreleased music and get opinions. I can post private albums with track sequencing, that sort of thing, just as a way to get people involved.

It’s more of a community-building thing.

Yeah, and that’s the thing. In the year since I talked to you last, I went from being a bedroom hermit with a group of friends outside of music to actually having a group of people. They’re spread out across the east coast, and really across the country, but I feel like they would all get along. I’m discovering the kind of people who listen to your original music are always a lot like you, sort of unintentionally, you know? It resonates with them, and they share similar humor and everything. They’re all just fucking weird, they’re just batshit, and it’s great.

This probably isn’t the permanent solution, because it’s still through a host. It’s through Bandcamp, but it’s worth a shot. I like the fan club thing more for that social aspect. Not to be like, “oh, I have fans, I have a fan club,” but it’s a way I can give people free albums, and I can give people things in return for paying this monthly thing. I don’t necessarily know if charging them is ideal, but for now, I’m trying, because I’m also fucking broke [laughs] and starving, so it’s a way to buy Wawa every now and then.

Tell me about what’s next for you.

I have a single/b-side I’m putting out in early January I’m very excited about. I think they pretty much stomp on The Hobbyist and Close Types, as far as the quality of the recording, the performance, and the writing. We’re working on videos, but I don’t know if we’ll have a video for each. It’s kind of a double single, I guess. They’re so different: one of the poppiest things I’ve done and one of the most absurd, jarring things I’ve done back to back, so we’ll have to see what happens with how I promote it.

That’s the plan for January, and I am actually doing a record with this live lineup. I decided it would be a waste to keep making records on my own and have them learn the songs when they could write their own parts and we could track something live. I don’t know if you saw that video session we did at Pablo’s. For a glimpse at what the next full record will sound like, we’re attempting to track everything live at Pablo’s house. We’re going to go down for a weekend and try to do a full album’s worth of material as live and as few takes as we possibly can.

I really should talk about the next EP, Perfume. I already have a title and artwork for it. It’s like my stupid Brian Wilson project. Because I’m doing the next full album with a full band, it’s going to be very minimal instrumentation and very minimal mixing. I decided to go fucking apeshit for the next couple months before that happens. Like, “alright, who do I know who plays an exotic instrument? Come over.” It’s so absurd. It’s the most unmarketable noise, practically. Jason Loux is playing the violin on a bunch of tracks, Chris is playing more piano, and I have horns. It’s just very grandiose, and no one’s going to take it seriously, but it’s more to get it out of my system.

I think, inevitably, I want to strip things down to the bare minimum each song requires. I’ve done enough layering. I’ve done enough grandiose shit. It was impressive in the ’60s because people were working on four, maybe eight tracks if you were lucky, and now it’s like anyone can fucking do it, you know? I’d rather make an impressive song out of two or three instruments and make them sound big, which I guess was a theme on Close Types. I’m carrying that theme over for the full band record, but I’ve got to get my guilty pleasure out of the way. The same thing I did with High Fidelity Drag. I wanted to move away from lo-fi, so I made the most lo-fi mush of shit, just concentrated feces in quality and tone. The same thinking with Perfume.

Any upcoming tour plans?

I want to be able to, maybe two or three times a year, do a week tour. Too many bands blow all their time and money on this giant cross-country thing, and it falls apart, they lose their money, and they don’t do it again. We’re trying to book some tours over the summer and have a consistent act.

Where are you going?

It’s weird–speaking of the Tinfoil Club, there was a time when I was planning on moving to Ashville, North Carolina. I was actually pretty hell-bent on it about a year ago. Some shit went down, and I was kind of discontented with living in Philly. I like Philly again; I’m probably going to stay for a while, but I was posting a lot in DIY pages and on Craigslist looking for houses, connections, and bandmates in Ashville. If I was going to relocate, I’d want to do it right, and I’d want to get people to play with, get shows, not just start completely from scratch.

In that process, I met a handful of really good people who ended up becoming part of that fan club. So we’re definitely hitting Ashville, probably Richmond and Harrisonburg, Virginia, and then I want to go down as far as Georgia. I do have some people in Atlanta and Athens who are listening. Spotify and Bandcamp both tell you where people are listening, and like I said, I have the fan club people, so I’m just kind of going based on where people actually like me. It could be an individual thing. Maybe those individuals like me, and the actual scene won’t like me, but I’m going to attempt to get involved in those scenes in the American southern circuit. For now, it seems like the northeast is really oversaturated and the west coast is just not doable. It’s not financially in our capabilities.

Again, there’s a lot of saturation and entrenched scenes out there.

Exactly, and I don’t even know if people will like my shit. It’s very chill, it’s very vibey out there, and I don’t think I’m very chill or vibey. I’m kind of neurotic, you know? The music I’m making, I feel like it belongs somewhere a bit more chaotic, and–

That’s Philly.

Right? Hopefully, it pans out. Like I said, Georgia is probably as far south as we’ll go. I don’t see a point in going into Florida, to be honest. [laughs] We don’t know any good Tom Petty or Jimmy Buffett covers. We’ll hit up the retirement home circuit in a couple years.

You’ll get there eventually, right?

Maybe we can retire there. We never have to quit. I can end up playing bingo and [laughs] Mac Demarco covers for senile millennials.


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